In 2 Timothy 2, where Paul urged Timothy to suffer and work hard, he also urged him to be like an athlete who “competes according to the rules” (v.5). When you are running hard, it’s easy to stumble and fall. Sadly, many who work hard in the relief process break some basic rules that should never be broken. So, when doing relief work, we must be sure to follow the basic principles of Christianity and of Christian service.
For example, in the overwhelming situation we may find ourselves in after a calamity, we may forget to take the time to be alone with God or to be with our spouse and children. But such omissions must not be allowed to go on for too long.
If we neglect our time with God, we will lose our spiritual health. If we neglect our time with our spouse and family members for too long, we will end up with unhealthy families. If we keep on losing sleep and working without a rest, our bodies and our emotions will be seriously affected, leaving us weak and erratic in our behavior.
Immediately after an emergency, we may have to push ourselves to the limit without much rest. But soon we will need to get into a routine of finding time for rest and devotion amid the busy activity. This would include resting one day a week in keeping with the principle of a Sabbath rest. This applies to all people involved in alleviating suffering. For example, those who care fulltime for ailing loved ones must make sure they take time off to rest and to be with the Lord. If they don’t, they may become irritable and even lose their effectiveness as caregivers.
Working nonstop without rest and spiritual nourishment will result in a loss of joy, irritability, and even depression. In his book The New Testament Image Of The Ministry (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974, p.133), W. T. Purkiser quotes someone involved in counseling who said that he has never known a case of depression that didn’t begin with fatigue.
Because joy is one of the most basic qualities of a Spirit-filled Christian (Gal. 5:22), when people lose their joy they cease to behave like Christians. This joy is what gives us strength (Neh. 8:10). It helps us to keep serving God enthusiastically, regardless of how tough things become. Sometimes we may be weeping from the sorrow of what has happened, but deep down we have the joy of the Lord in our lives. This is because amid the sorrow, we are enjoying fellowship with the One who loves us and whom we deeply love.
One of the sad facts of the history of relief work is that many of its workers have fallen into serious sin and damaged their relationships with their families and loved ones. And many relief workers burn out and never attempt such work again.
This is similar to what we see in families who have a child who is seriously ill. Couples will often divorce after they have come to the end of their prolonged crisis. They had been so involved with the tough work of caring for the child that they didn’t take the time to nurture their marriage relationship. They were working hard together throughout their child’s illness, but once the child died they discovered that they had drifted apart.
In emergency situations, be careful to “keep a close watch on yourself” (1 Tim. 4:16 ESV). We tend to get careless when we are tired. We can easily be caught off guard at such times. So we need to be especially careful about our personal lives when we’re exhausted.
We also need to be careful about our professional behavior. Paul warned that if we work in ways that are displeasing to God, our work will be considered useless by God and will be burned away and destroyed at the final judgment (1 Cor. 3:12- 15). Here are some professional errors we need to be careful about.
• We must take care that we do not exaggerate about what we are doing or use our reporting to bring glory to ourselves. The glory from what we do belongs to God alone (Ps. 115:1; Isa. 48:11). We need to be constantly alert to the possibility of straying into actions that are aimed primarily at bringing glory to ourselves and our organizations.
• We must also be careful about the way we use the funds we receive. Even though there is a lot of urgent work to do, we must not break the principles of acceptable accounting. Sadly, many frauds have been committed during relief operations. And some of these began as errors in procedures by well-meaning individuals.